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FF: Disaster Planning (1/2)

Title: Disaster Planning (1/2)
Rating: PG-13 
Pairing: Leslie/Ben
Word Count: 2785
Timeline: Stops at 3.06 “Indianapolis”
A/N: Originally started as a quick, silly fluff piece for the very first prompt (The Observer/Third Wheel) of the very first round of the very first Hiatus Fest (hence the pre-Harvest-Fest timeline), this fic ended up getting a lot longer than I expected once I sat down to write it and got pushed to the side when I wasn't able to complete it by the deadline. But since we find ourselves once again in need of Hiatus Festing I figured I'd finish it up! :)
Summary: In the way only a truly gifted criminal mastermind possibly could, Greg Pikitis gazed upon a Human Disaster and saw something like a miracle.



It was, in a word, serendipity.

Or at least that was how Greg Pikitis viewed it, when on some nondescript day in early fall he'd been absentmindedly flipping through the TV channels and suddenly stumbled upon a golden opportunity.

In the way only a truly gifted criminal mastermind possibly could, Greg Pikitis gazed upon a Human Disaster and saw something like a miracle.

Before that moment the thought of his next strike on his archrival Leslie Knope could honestly not have been farther from his mind. Greg, who always made sure to have his sources within City Hall keep him up to date with the latest happenings in the Department of Parks and Recreation, had been among the first to hear about Leslie's Harvest Festival plan and the risk it's potential failure held for her department. After a bit of an internal debate, he'd finally come to the firm and final decision to give his favorite Deputy Director a pass, at least until the festival was over. After all, if Leslie got canned, how would he ever find someone even half as fun to torture?

It was one of the few promises he made with an actual intention to keep. In fact, he'd even gone so far as to talk the festival up amongst his friends (with a special emphasis on, you know, not wreaking havoc on it). But now, with this stammering former teen mayor falling helplessly, perfectly into his lap —well, how was he supposed to take it as any thing less than a sign from God? He couldn't have dreamed up a more perfect target for himself if he'd tried.

From the way Leslie jumped to defend him, to the way she waited patiently to support him, to the way they passed the kind of subtle smiles and glances that said “you're the only other person in the room” (while simultaneously making Greg want to hurl), there was no doubt in his mind that this imbecile represented a direct path to Leslie, a crack in her usually impenetrable armor. There was something there, something new and uncertain, substantial yet entirely non-concrete, something pulse racing and stomach flipping. The kind of thing that was perfect for exploiting.

Like with most underhanded, shady plots bent on inflicting maximum psychological torment, the first stage of Greg's plan relied heavily on timing. It had cost him several days of his classmates' lunch money, but he had been able bribe a city employee handsomely enough to get the detailed schedule he needed to pinpoint the perfect time to launch the first phase of his plan.

And so it was that he strolled into City Hall just after 4 pm that Wednesday. He had it on good (or, well, at least heavily bribed) authority that every Wednesday Leslie left there around 3:30 in order to make her weekly checkins with the Community Center and Park Rangers before heading home for the day. Her boss, one Mr. Ronald Swanson, would wait about 10 minutes (assumably the time needed for Leslie to have gotten far enough from the building that she wouldn't catch them heading out) before announcing they had gotten done all the work they needed to that day and everyone was free to go home.

And just as expected, when Greg passed by the Parks and Recreation Department that day he found it to indeed be empty. He felt the quick surge of mischievous delight he got every time a piece in one of his schemes fell precisely into place. Stifling the beginnings of a cackle, he continued down the hall according to the directions his informant had given him earlier that day until he recognized the door marked with a crudely taped piece of office paper that identified the occupants as “Temporary Emergency Budget Auditing Office, Christopher Traeger, Benjamin Wyatt” (though the name “Christopher Traeger” had been crossed out with what appeared to be orange highlighter since his return to Indianapolis the previous week), Greg took a moment to compose himself, allowing for one last positively sinister smirk before knocking on the door that would tip the first domino of his masterpiece, his tour-de-force, into motion. Donning a straight face, he tapped his fist against the wood.

A few seconds passed before Greg found himself face-to-face with the one, the only, star of Youtube's “Guy Totally Looses His Shit on Public Access!,”Ben Wyatt.

“Oh, uh, hi, I'm really sorry to bother you,” he said, voice coated in a thick layer of feigned innocence and nerves. “I was just looking for my aunt, Leslie Knope?”

It had taken only the mention on her name and Ben was suddenly at full attention, eyes brighter, face softer, the corner's of his mouth betraying the slightest start of a smile.

Greg Pikitis had stolen candy from babies before.

This was going to be easier.

~

The next morning Leslie made what had become a routine stop at Ben's office before heading to her own.

“Morning,” she greeted him cheerfully, handing him what the untrained observer might assume to be a cup of coffee.

Ben, of course, knew better. He was fully aware the cup contained 1% coffee drowned in 99% whipcream and sugar, the beverage equivalent of liquid diabetes. Yet even with that knowledge, he still proceeded to smile, take a sip, and even manage to get out a small “Thanks” without accompanying it with his breakfast.

It was an act he'd been keeping up since a few weeks earlier, when Leslie had been drinking the concoction herself and insisted that he try some. He'd done his best just to stifle the resulting gag, not wanting to offend her and maybe also sort of sheepishly hoping it might win him a few extra brownie points.

However, thinly veiled disgust being, by far, the single most positive reaction her favorite beverage had ever received, Leslie had taken it upon herself to start bringing in an extra cup for her seemingly-similarly-sugar-enamored coworker every morning (since, as she had explained, asking for it from anywhere else could result in some rather hurtful words from a few of Pawnee's snootier baristas). She’d even mentioned making a special stop at the grocery store just to pick up some of those little lidded to-go-cups. The least Ben could do, he decided, was try to stomach the stuff. Besides, if it meant an added excuse to see her every morning, it was worth the 10+ years it was more than likely shaving from his life expectancy.

“How'd everything go yesterday after I left?” she asked, taking a sip from her own cup. “Did you manage to finish that last spreadsheet?”

“Oh yeah, I did,” he smiled a little as his thoughts fell back to the previous afternoon and (what he at least thought was) his rather successful interaction with one of her most beloved family members. “Actually, your nephew stopped by to pick up those flyers you made for his bake sale. Cool kid. He seemed really disappointed that he missed you.”

“My nephew?” Leslie asked, brow furrowed in confusion. Her mind started trying to process who Ben could have possibly mistaken for her nephew.

Ben raised an uncertain eyebrow of his own, not sure what to make of her reaction. “Yeah, when you weren’t in your office he thought you, uh...”

His mind quickly flashed to “Walice” explaining, “Honestly, the way she's always talking about you, I thought she might be in here making out.” The kid had said it in this cool, casual way that made Ben feel as though he was in on some sort of joke.

He decided (not surprisingly) to leave that detail out. “You know, that you might have had a meeting with me or something, and since I have those extra keys to your office—”

Her eyes shot open in realization, a look of almost indistinguishable loathing and repulsion flashed across her face. In that instance, she knew--“PIKITAS!”

Before Ben could blink, Leslie had torn off down the hall, a (thankfully) all-but-empty coffee cup flying disregarded out of her hands and onto the floor. Ben, completely dumbfounded, jumped up from his desk, trotting to catch up.

By the time he did, she had already reached her office and stood, seemingly frozen, just inside the door. Ben, taking a second to catch his breath, looked over the room and then at Leslie, who’s wide eyes and frozen face seem to reflect nothing less than abject horror.

She started shaking her head, slowly at first but then gradually picking up speed. “No...no...no, no, no, NO,” she hit the last 'no' with a strange sort of choked gasp.

Her eyes narrowed as her voice fell to a seething whisper, “Oh that fantastic, incredible little bastard.”

“Leslie, what are you talking about?” Ben demanded, worried but still unbelievably confused as to why he should be.

Her gaze snapped towards him. She grabbed frantically onto the collar of his shirt, “How long was he here?! Did you watch him? Ben! How long was he not the DIRECT focus of your line of sight?! BEN!? Are you listening to me!? How long!?”

Flustered by both how close she had pulled his face to hers and how nonsensically hysterical she was being, Ben pulled himself back, stammering a little as he attempted to get out some kind of answer. “N-not long! I was going to go with him, but the phone rang just as--”

“Of course the phone rang!” Leslie bit, her eyes turned back to the room, darting back and forth over every object as though she expected one to jump out and grab her.“Who did you think you were dealing with? Some kind of amateur?”

“Yes!” His voice cracked a little as he said it. He was honestly more confused then when she seemed to be deeply, genuinely offended by a particular type of Italian food. “The kid was like 14! He was only gone for a few minutes and your office looks exactly the same!”

Watching Leslie’s expression remain completely unchanged, he felt a weird sinking feeling in his gut. “He-he came back with the flyers,” he added feebly, though he wasn’t really sure how he expected it to help.

“Oh, Ben,” she sighed, gazing at him with something that closely resembled pity. “Oh, dear, sweet, innocent Ben. How can I possibly confer to you the diabolical genius that is Greg Pikitis?”

She seemed to consider it for a moment. “Imagine someone could combine James Bond with Darth Vader with Einstein with Professor X with Hermione Granger....with Batman with Nancy Pelosi. Except make them all be super evil. And also invisible. And then wrap that all up and shove it into one douchey little teenage turdbag.”

Well-” Ben started in that tone that Leslie now knew meant--“ I'm about to try to correct you about something in a way that will inevitably backfire by just making me look like a super nerd.”

She held up a finger, because as much as she delighted in teasing Ben for being an even bigger dweeb than she was, now was simply not the time. She swept her hand out before her, gesturing to the room. “Exhibit A.”

“I still don't see--”

“That's just it, Ben!” she interjected with a sort of semi-hysterical snort of a laugh. “That's how genius he is. He knew, Ben. Pikitis knew you'd tell me he'd been here, knew I'd know he was here, knew I'd know he did something to something but not what he did to what.”

She began a slow, deliberate pace around the room, eying furniture like she meant to interrogate it. “So that's the question, isn't it, Ben? The question is what!”

Not sure what else to do, Ben just stared.

“What's going on?” Tom asked with only a moderate amount of interest from behind him, apparently not finding the situation strange enough to warrant a pause in whatever he was texting.

Ben turned, hoping Tom's face might hold a look of sanity with which he could commiserate. “Greg Pikitis?” he said, hands lifted slightly to make sure it was clear that just because he said the name, did not mean he had any understanding of its connotation.

Without hesitation, Tom's eyes immediately locked onto Ben's with an intensity that made the auditor glance to either side, as if expecting there to be someone else in the room for whom such a glance must be meant. Tom took a deep breath and then slowly, carefully, “Ben, tell me that Greg Pikitis did not spend time alone in this room.”

Ben opened his mouth and tried for a word, but then shut it again uselessly. Apparently for Tom, nothing was answer enough.

“No, no, no, no!” he whined frantically, rushing over to look at his desk but taking care not to touch anything. He alternated between several low and high pitched incoherent moans of distress. For a moment, Ben was pretty sure he was about to see a grown man cry.

But of course, as usual, Leslie saved the day, Tom’s distress apparently snapping her (at least momentarily) back to reality. “It's okay, Tom,” she promised, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It's not the end of the world. We're gonna figure out just what that little hellspawn did in here, we’re gonna fix it, and then everything’s going to be just fine.”

“Are you kidding me?” Tom squeaked, glancing longingly at his autographed picture of Jamie Foxx, wanting so badly to reach out and comfort it with a touch but knowing better. “We're going to have burn or disinfect EVERYTHING in here.”

For a moment, Leslie looked as though she might try to argue. Tom glared at her as though issuing a direct challenge,“Or are you really willing to bet there's something in this room that kid didn't fart on?”

Leslie dropped her head a little.

“He was only in here for five minutes!” Ben exclaimed, trying to be some voice of reason, but succeeding only in redirecting Tom's glare towards him.

“Oh yeah Ben? Why don't you pick something up then?”

There was a silent pause as both Parks and Rec employees turned their gaze to the state official. He fidgeted slightly. It wasn't like he thought the kid had really...it was just, they were making such a big deal about it...His own gaze fell to the floor.

“HAH! That's what I thought,” Tom said, at that moment, appreciating victory wherever he could get it. “I told you you should have never made him that extra set of keys.”

Ben's heart sunk a little. Even if they were overreacting, even if this Pikitis kid hadn't actually done anything, he still never should have let him go into Leslie's office alone. The kid had just been so damn charming! And what reason could anyone have had for doing something malicious to possibly the single most lovable deputy director in the world?

“Tom, stop it,” Leslie said flatly, and Tom's glare turned more into a pout, still irritated but aware he'd probably taken it a step to far. “We'll just wrap Jerry in some garbage bags and shove him in here with a couple hundred cans of Lysol.”

She looked around the room, biting her bottom lip, still clearly unsatisfied. “I don't know though...I mean, obviously, he knew Ben had the keys, knew Ben would be absolutely no challenge to get them from”--Ben made a slightly offended face. “And must have known would take back the keys from Ben as soon as we found out what happened”--Another less-than-pleased look from Ben. “So why cash in on an opportunity like that just to rub his butt on our phones? That's minor leagues, not Pikitis. He's smarter than that. He has to be after something bigger...”

She looked around again, eyes narrowed as she once again scoured the room for an answer. And there it was—hanging on the wall in front of her the whole time.

“Oh my god,” she whimpered, eyes wide. “The Harvest Festival.”

It struck her so hard she forgot about the possible contamination of her chair and fell back into it.

It was only Greg Pikitis, hiding in a bush just outside the window, that giggled as what might have otherwise been a dramatic silence was broken by the loud “Pppppmmmmfffffffttttt” of a very strategically placed whoopee cushion.


(tbc)

 

Thanks so much for reading, hope you enjoyed it! :) I'll try to get part two up as soon as possible, which I promise will have much more direct Ben/Leslie goodness! ;)

 

FF: Getting It

Title: Getting It
Rating: PG
Pairing:
Leslie/Ben
Word Count: 1817
Spoiler Alert: Written after seeing the four Harvest Festival promotional photos posted here. There wasn't anything too huge given away in the photos (I think), but if you want to be 100% surprised on 17th, probably best to stay away!
Summary: "And now, here he was, walking up to her in the shirt she had gotten him, ignoring the snickers from one or two strangers, and wearing that smile—that hopeful, humoring smile that said: 'I don't really get it, but I'm sure as hell trying.'"
A/N: This is also my submission for Round Two of Hiatus Fest '11, using the third prompt, "Leslie's Turn"

 

Leslie knew he still didn't really get it.

She could it see it in the unsure but trusting half-smile he had on as he walked back in her direction. It was the same kind of smile she remembered Andy shooting Gus the first time he tried to shine a shoe. It said simultaneously “...is this right?” and “What the hell am I doing?”

But Leslie also knew that Pawnee was, well, a lot to take in. She knew that it was different, really different, from anywhere else in the world (after all, wasn't that just what was so great about it?). And while she'd been lucky enough to grow up with all the best people and best customs and best things and best traditions of the best city in the whole world, she could understand how the whole thing might be a little confusing for someone who wasn't quite used to all that best of the best.

So when Ben was the only one in the office who hadn't been completely besides themselves yesterday when she'd brought in Lil' Sebastian for a Last-Day-Before-Harvest-Fest morale booster, she tried to remind herself that it was probably only because he'd been unfortunate enough to grow up in a town completely devoid of adorable miniature horse celebrities and definitely not because he really was just a numbers robot, completely devoid of human emotion.

And sure enough, when Leslie stopped by to check on the petting zoo early the next morning, there was Ben, looking even more awkwardly tall and gawky than usual as he stood next to the pint-sized pony, handing his handler a dollar in exchange for a carrot. She watched him kneel down to feed the tiny horse, one hand flat as it offered out the carrot, the other cautiously reaching out to pet his mane.

Of course, Leslie found anything involving little Lil' Sebastian to be pretty heartwarming in general, but she couldn't explain what it was about that particular moment that made her heart not just warm but melt. It was something else, something extra, something more than just a cute boy petting a cute horse. Whatever it was, it felt so genuinely touching, she couldn't help but make a quick detour at the gift shop before going over to say hello.

“Oh, hey,” Ben said as soon as he spotted her walking in his direction. He looked to where he was standing, just inside the confines of the petting zoo fence, and then back at her, and must have assumed she would want an explanation.“Everyone seemed to think I was a crazy for not being more excited about Lil' Sebastian yesterday, so I guess I sorta figured I should see what all the fuss was about.”

“I saw,” Leslie grinned. “And I have a present for you.”

Before he could protest, she had handed him what appeared to be a folded up T-shirt. He held it up to see a printed likeness of Lil' Sebastian framed with the words “I Met Lil' Sebastian at the Pawnee Harvest Festival.”

“You know, so you'll always have a little piece of Pawnee,” she smiled. “You could even wear in the next town you audit so everyone will know you're not really 'Mean Ben.'” More like Sweet Ben, Cute Ben, Almost-As-Adorably-Huggable-As-Lil'-Sebastian Ben, she thought to herself but thankfully refrained from saying.

She could have sworn she saw a quick flash of something sad across Ben's face but whatever it had been was quickly covered by a smile. “Thank you, Leslie.”

There was an uncomfortable moment in which the sincerity of the statement seemed echoed in the way he held her eyes. “Well,” she said, breaking the tension. “Aren't you going to try it on? You can change in the First Aid tent. It's a ladies' medium. You're a little bigger than Tom and he wears a ladies' small, so it should fit.”

He had given some halfhearted argument about being perfectly capable of fitting in men's sizes but in the end, had of course surrendered, retreating to the First Aid tent to don his lady-sized T-shirt.

And now, here he was, walking up to her in the shirt she had gotten him, ignoring the snickers from one or two strangers, and wearing that smile—that hopeful, humoring smile that said: “I don't really get it, but I'm sure as hell trying.”

And suddenly she understood just what had struck her so significantly about that moment with Lil' Sebastian, what she'd somehow been missing in all the rush of Harvest Fest and saving her department. Ben might not have born in Pawnee, but he seemed to recognized that just because he wasn't used to it , didn't mean it wasn't beautiful. He saw something special enough in her city to believe different could mean better and he was ready to suspend his disbelief (and his dignity) long enough to honestly and wholeheartedly give it a chance.

“Nice shirt, dude,” Tom, who had joined Leslie while she was waiting, commented with utmost sarcasm.

Leslie sent him a quick glare before turning back at Ben with a smile, “I think he looks great.” She tugged a bit on the bottom, straightening out some wrinkles, and then said proudly, “Like a real Pawneian.”

Ben beamed for a moment and then looked as though he might say something. Whatever it was, he must have thought better of it, because instead he turned around and focused his attention on the miniature horse in the ring. Leslie did the same.

“Aw! Lookkit! He's eating!” she squealed, unconsciously pressing a hand against the small of Ben's back as she pointed at the tiny horsey. She felt him jolt a little beneath her touch and when she turned to look up at him, he was looking down with a goofy kind of grin.

His eyes quickly snapped to the direction she was pointing, “Yeah, cute.”

As they watched Lil' Sebastian putter around his pin a while longer, Leslie allowed her thoughts to fall on Ben Wyatt, the state auditor with the awkward, uncomfortable sort of charm, who had worked so hard to help her save city. It was the first time she'd taken a moment to accept that he'd be leaving at the end of the week and she was surprised to find herself feeling not just sad, but guilty.

She remembered how once when she'd mentioned he must be getting excited to get to finally go back home, Ben had admitted that Indianapolis 'didn't really feel like home.' And though she hadn't pushed the matter any further at the time, she'd just gotten the feeling that maybe nowhere did. Yet, Ben seemed to fit more perfectly in Pawnee than any other outsider she'd ever met. There was just something about him, something unique in same way that Pawnee was, that made her wonder if the city that had always been her home wasn't the same home he had been missing.

And when once she did, she couldn't help but think that if she'd just been less busy with the festival she might have noticed it and that if she had noticed it she would have made sure to make time to show Ben every single thing about Pawnee, and that if he had seen all of it, he would have really gotten it, and that it had really gotten it, he would have no choice but to stay.

Ben had leaned down to rest his crossed arms on top of the wooden fence and though his eyes were following the movements of the tiny horse, his pensive expression suggested his thoughts were really elsewhere.

It was one of those moments she couldn't hep noticing just how easy on the eyes he actually was, only this time she didn't quickly brush it off as something completely irrelevant and inappropriate. Instead, she gave herself permission to appreciate it, as well as to appreciate how totally oblivious he must have been to it to jump at a touch from a woman who had never owned a shirt that looked wet all the time (and only once worn a metal bikini for to what turned out to be a very embarrassing third grade Halloween party).

It was at that moment that everything she'd learned in the last few months about the kind of man Ben Wyatt actually was totaled up into something so thoroughly endearing, she couldn’t stop herself from admitting aloud, “I'm really going to miss you, Ben.”

He looked up and seemed like he was unable to decide if he was happy or sad, surprised or confused. “Leslie, I..uh,” he struggled.

She knew she had put him in an awkward situation so she decided to put the poor thing out of his misery and just get out what she needed to say and then let that be the end of it. She took a deep breath--

“Look, I know you move around a lot, and you're used to getting to know people and then having to leave and well, I won't say I'm glad about the budget cuts, or about the government being shut down all summer, or about you getting impeached, but I just want you to know that, however it happened, I'm glad you found your way to Pawnee. You made a positive impact here and we won't forget that. We won't forget you, Ben. And someday you're going to find the place that really does feel like home to you and when you do, well, they'll be lucky to have you.”

The only readable emotion on Ben's face was a vague overlay of astonishment and Leslie, also surprised (having learned she had those feelings at just about the same time as Ben had), turned back to the brain-hug that was watching a miniature horse nibble on hay.

But then-- a small squeeze, as Ben took her hand in her own. Startled, she looked up at him with a questioning glance.

“Here feels like home.” There was a sort of forceful certainty in his voice that made her feel as though he needed her to know.

And she did know, it was a subtext she could see in across all of his effort, in how hard he'd been constantly trying, she just still wasn't sure what it meant. Nor did she know what it meant that he'd gone on holding her hand like that (and that she'd gone on letting him) until Jerry (who else?) rushed (okay, more like speed-waddled) over and pulled her away to be lost for the remainder of the day in the chaos of the festival and events.

She doesn't really get it, not yet anyway, but that night, when she returns to her house and thinks of it, she smiles.

And that night, when Ben gets back to his motel still thinking of her (and still wearing that oh-so-dorky T-shirt), he calls back the man from The City of Pawnee Human Resources Department and tells him that he'll take the job.

FF: The Feel Before the Fall

Title: The Feel Before the Fall
Pairing: Leslie/Ben
Rating: PG13
Word Count: 1765
Summary: "It was hope—hope that he could really make a positive difference, hope that he might, for once, make his father proud. It was blind, optimistic, unyielding, hope that Ben would later be certain could never survive anywhere outside the foolish, naive dreams of an 18 year old boy mayor.
Until, of course, he met Leslie Knope."


Ben Wyatt was familiar with the feel before the fall.
 
He'd felt it first at nine, when by the big, dirt hill that was the tallest in their tiny town, his older brothers had taunted him just one too many times. It started out only as an inkling, more a spark than something certain. But, as sparks often do, it caught onto something and from there began exponentially to spread. Within moments “...could I show them?” had become “This'll show 'em” and Benjy had started walking his bike toward the hill.
 
When his brothers realized he might actually go through with it, they immediately repented (granted, it was only thanks to the foresight that their mother might murder them if they brought there little brother back in pieces). They shouted after him:
“Benjy, don't!”
“We were kidding!
“You're gonna get us all in trouble!”
“Can I have your Gameboy once you're dead!?”
 
Of course, as Ben would learn, and even as he felt to be true then, that was all part of it: the doubt, the naysayers, the second guessing. It made it that much more thrilling and nerve wrecking and heart pounding and just, real. There was something in the uncertainty and in the fact that he was still moving towards it, not running away. In the back of his head he would start to hear some of his father's frequently repeated adages playing on a loop. Things like: “Your cowardice is all that stands between you and your success” and “The best moments in life are the ones that are most challenging to reach.”
 
They were the same sayings that he'd repeated to himself a whole lifetime later, when he'd seen the first flicker of that feeling again at the breakfast table on the morning he turned 18. Blurry and groggy eyed, still in his Boba Fett pajamas, he had been greeted in the kitchen by his far-too-awake-for-7-am mother, who issued him a cheerful “Happy Birthday!”, a tight hug, and then a heaping plate of birthday waffles.

“How old are you now?” his father asked, eyes moving briefly from his paper to his youngest son, now seated beside him.
 
“Uh, eighteen, Dad,” Ben said, taken back by (what he considered to be anyway) a markedly increased amount of interest being taken in him by his father.
 
“Eighteen,” he repeated, eyes already back on his paper. He flipped the page. “Old enough to run for office.”
 
And just like that, it was back--that tiny, excited glimmer of possibility, that feeling of “What if?” and “Just Maybe!” It was the flicker that in following months would ignite a full blown campaign. It was the fuel that would drive him to get signatures and canvas neighborhoods and stay up late on school nights prepping for debates. And it only got stronger from all the “Drop out now!”s, “You have no chance!”s, and “What are you thinking?!”s.

It was hope—hope that he could really make a positive difference, hope that he might, for once, make his father proud. It was  blind, optimistic, unyielding, hope that Ben would later be certain could never survive anywhere outside the foolish, naive dreams of an 18 year old boy mayor.
 
Until, of course, he met Leslie Knope.
 
At 35, almost a full 18 years later, he should have known to be worried, he should have remembered what happened the last time he'd put a lifetime of distance between a climb and a fall. But how could he have ever possibly anticipated there’d be someone who could make him want to hope again?
 
But there it was—that little hint of something bigger, a quick flash he’d spotted somewhere in her fearlessness. He had tried to fight it, to ignore it, to pretend like he had it under control, but before he knew it, he was in the parking lot of a public library, trying to bribe a children's entertainer to get in his car. Because, well, she was Leslie Knope,  and just like that he was nine again, with enough hope to believe he could really make it down that hill. He was an eighteen year old idealistic optimist, putting it all on the line for some big, risky, nonessential project, and getting his stomach tied in knots just by the smallest sidelong glances from a girl.

In hindsight, he should have known then what was coming. He should have been running away or, at the very least, bracing for the impact. But that was the whole thing with that first part--the buildup, the climb. Believing (for whatever crazy reason he could come up with) that this time was somehow, someway going to be different, no matter how similar it felt—well, that was the whole nature of the game.

And so, with Leslie, Ben had managed to convince himself that as long as he remained in limbo, wanting but not having, dreaming but not acting, they’d be safe. After all, that first part was more like a prequel to the feeling he was afraid of than the feeling itself. If the fall was lighting, then the feeling to fret was thunder, and what he was feeling, well, that was just the gathering of clouds. As long as he didn’t go all in, as long as he hadn’t felt the thunder, he was safe, he had had time-

That was, at least until today. Today, when had begun to feel that distant, ominous rumbling, when out of something new he’d found something familiar, when he'd recognized it without a doubt: the feel before the fall.

It was in those, few, brief, breathless, precious seconds a little less than halfway down the hill, when he thought not just that he could do this, but that if he only pedaled just a little harder, surely he could fly.

It was in that screaming, hugging, whirling blur of disbelief and congratulations when the announcement was first made, like something electric caught all up inside him, like he was living the dream.

And then, on the last day of the Harvest Festival, after all they’d worked so hard on had been packed up and moved away, and he had taken Leslie back to her place and she had told him to wait right there while she ran inside to grab the jacket that he' wrapped around her two nights earlier when they'd been watching the fireworks and she seemed like she might be cold. He took the jacket from her and placed it in his car ( though he'd really wanted her to keep it and she'd really hadn't wanted to give it away) and then, they had stood there, Ben leaning awkwardly against the passenger-side door, Leslie standing a safe distance away.

There was a long, empty silence until Leslie, in voice sounding just barely better than defeated, said, “Well.. I guess this is it.”

They locked eyes, and another several silent seconds passed, Neither spoke or moved. Then out of what seemed to be the clear blue sky, whatever had been holding them back shattered in one single, unanimous instance, and they crashed into each other at equal speed. 

And there it was-

It was that frantic, heart-pounding, pulling, pushing, halfmasked glee, when suddenly her legs were wrapped around his waist and she was panting in-between kisses, “House. Now." And he was struggling to carry her and not stop kissing her and somehow still open the door.

It was all he’d been wanting for weeks in a slow motion fast forward freeze frame. It was the multilayered incredibleness of what was happening, and with who, and what that all meant and when amidst all the panting and the sweating, gasping, he stole away one sober moment to just see her, to recognize that the woman he was with was the same, unbelievable, wonderful, adorable girl he’d been pining after since he'd first arrived in Pawnee, and to think that, holy shit, somehow that girl had wanted him, and Jesus Christ, this was all actually happening.

And it was the contained thrill of content bliss in waking up beside her the next morning, in knowing, at least in for that moment, she was maybe all his and maybe all he needed. It was that far off, hazy possibility that he could honestly imagine he might never get tired of this.

But when his mind strayed like that, considered a point any further down the timeline, he began instantly to fall. He felt again the same sharp cut from every rock that slashed him when he’d come smashing down that hill, crashing to the bottom to lay a tangled heap of bike and boy and rock and blood and dirt and broken bone. He heard his classmates cackling through impeachment proceedings and the taunts and jeers and hatred of his whole home town. He remembered Cindy Eckerd washing her hands of him, and his mother crying as she grounded him, his father in his recliner, faced the other way--refusing to speak to or even look at him.

He wanted to block it all out, Ice Town, the bike, the hill, his father, Indianapolis, the way the slowly spreading light across Leslie’s sheets was proof time would only keep moving forward. But shit, what had he been thinking? Shit. He was going down again, and now he was going to drag Leslie down with him. Suddenly he was sure it would be better for them both he was absolutely anywhere else but there. He sat up quietly and slowly, inching one leg off of the bed.

Leslie stirred, let out a large yawn, and turned to stare at him, sitting straight up besides her, one foot off the bed, looking terribly distressed.

“Oh, hey, I—uh, is it okay that I’m—” he stammered, as unsure if it was okay for him to still be there as he was if it was okay for him to leave.

She couldn’t help it--it was just something about the absolute bewilderment all over his face--she burst into tiny, tired giggles. “You are such a nerd.” With all the effort she had available, she stretched up halfway and offered his lips a soft, sweet reassurance. “Now come back to bed,” she mumbled sleepily as she took his hand in hers and she pulled his arm around her, curling back up on her side.

For the first time in his life, Ben Wyatt considered that the feeling might just be worth the fall.

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